At a sunset gathering last month, Tom Steyer convened a mix of some 75 fellow Democratic donors and operatives at his home in San Francisco’s secluded Sea Cliff neighborhood, replete with its sweeping, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge, not far from Jack Dorsey and Marc Benioff. The purpose of the private reception, according to an invitation passed my way, was to introduce Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the new president of NextGen America, “for a reception and conversation on why the youth vote is key to winning in 2022.” Some guests snacked on vegan bites (Tzintzún Ramirez is vegan) while others received personally-inscribed books as party takeaways (Steyer is a big book-gifter).
What many guests also took away, however, was the distinct impression that NextGen is changing. Steyer, after all, has spent much of the last decade as the primary funder and figurehead of the advocacy group focused on climate activism and youth voter turnout. But when he approached the mic—bereft of his usual tartan tie, and shortly before his now-separated wife, Kat Taylor, sang a Texas-themed ditty, with specially-written lyrics read from her iPhone—Steyer told the crowd, to paraphrase an attendee, that he wanted to open the tent at NextGen, to make sure that the nonprofit he founded in 2013 would no longer be just a Tom Steyer operation.
For Steyer’s inner circle, none of what he said was particularly dramatic: Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned climate activist, who briefly ran for president, has been telegraphing these moves for some time. But for the broader audience in his literal backyard tent, the messaging—as well as the very decision to hold an event to cultivate more donors—spoke to Steyer’s small but meaningful repositioning within the high-dollar milieu of Democratic fundraising.